Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Is the play-calling too predictable?
A lot of things have gone wrong with the Vikings offense thus far in 2013. There have been too many turnovers, Adrian Peterson has had to struggle for every rushing yard, and the passing game has been inefficient at best.
It's possible that all of these factors can be attributed to one source. That source is offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.
Certainly a lot of fans seem to think so. There's even a "Fire Bill Musgrave" page on Facebook. Currently, the page has more than 400 followers and hundreds of angry messages from Minnesota fans.
Musgrave has, at best, a checkered record of success in his 16-year coaching career. He's made eight stops over that period of time and has suffered the ire of fans at just about every stop.
While Ponder's play has been spotty at best, some fans and media mavens attribute most of the difficulties to Musgrave's "vanilla" play-calling. Most people who watch the Vikings regularly can safely predict most plays before the snap. If fans can see what's coming, NFL defenses can see it too.
For a coach who is criticized for his generic play-calling, Musgrave is known for being a creative offensive mind, as noted by Bleacher Report's Arif Hasan. Musgrave did a good job of getting the versatile Percy Harvin the ball in innovative ways.
Like him or not, he was also the architect of the Minnesota running game that allowed Adrian Peterson to rush for more than 2,000 yards in 2012.
Sadly, Musgrave's ingenuity seems to be on the wane. Explosive rookie Cordarrelle Patterson has only been on the field for 11 snaps in the Vikings' first two games. Newly acquired Greg Jennings hasn't been much of a factor thus far, and Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Rudolph has gotten relatively few targets.
These are all things Musgrave can control. He has the responsibility for personnel and calling plays. It would be a simple matter to make sure Patterson touched the ball at least twice per quarter and that Jennings and Rudolph were each targeted six to eight times per game.
If those factors were in play, defenses would be wary of stacking the line to stop Adrian Peterson. As it now stands, Peterson frequently sees eight or nine defenders near the line of scrimmage on every running down.
Those who defend Musgrave say that he did what he did last year because the offense lacked weapons beyond Peterson once Harvin went down with an injury in Week 9. That excuse is wearing thin. Peterson continues to be amazing. Rudolph should be poised for a breakout year. Patterson is on the roster. Jarius Wright has shown flashes of big-play ability.
In addition, both Jennings and Jerome Simpson have been healthy this year, giving the Vikings a reliable starting pair of wide receivers for the first time since 2009.
The weapons are there. Musgrave has to demonstrate that he's willing to tailor his offense to the players he has available instead of trying to force the players to fit his scheme.
There were signs that things might be changing in the Week 1 game against Detroit. Ponder completed two passes of more than 40 yards (both to Simpson) and tried passes of longer than 20 yards more than six times. Unfortunately, the team reverted to its more conservative approach in the Chicago game.
The stats show what fans have been saying. Minnesota's offense is vanilla and subpar. The team ranks 20th in the NFL in yards per game. They're 20th in passing offense and 10th in rushing offense. It seems unthinkable that a team featuring Adrian Peterson is 10th in rushing. The team ranks eighth in scoring, but that number has been bolstered by a return touchdown and a defensive score. Without those two touchdowns, the Vikings' scoring offense would be tied for 22nd.
It's a bit of a chicken-or-egg question. Is the offense stagnant because the players aren't executing? Or is the offense troublesome because the players can't execute poorly devised game plans? It's clear that the weapons are in place. It's time for Musgrave to take advantage.